In seven days the Yankees will open the 2019 regular season at Yankee Stadium against the Orioles. Meaningful baseball is only one week away. Thank goodness for that. Hopefully no one else gets hurt between now and then. Anyway, I have some thoughts on things, so let’s get to ’em.
1. Two recent contract extensions are relevant to the Yankees. First, the Eloy Jimenez deal (six years, $43M) puts an end to any chance the Yankees had at signing Gleyber Torres to a six-year deal in the $30M range. Six years and $25M or so was the established rate for players with less than one full year of service time (Tim Anderson, Paul DeJong, Scott Kingery, Brandon Lowe). Forget that now. Jimenez smashed the pay scale. He and Torres are the same age and they’re both highly regarded prospects who were originally signed by the Cubs. Eloy hasn’t even made his Major League debut yet! Torres has an above-average big league season and an All-Star Game selection to his credit. Why would he take less than the Jimenez deal now? Oh well. Secondly, the Alex Bregman deal (six years, $100M) gives us another benchmark for an Aaron Judge extension. Bregman and Judge have nearly identical service time and they’re both MVP caliber producers. Their career numbers side-by-side:
They go about it in different ways and at different positions, but the overall value is similar. Fortunately for Judge, he goes about it in a way that historically pays better (power), and he has more hardware. It’s two All-Star Game selections vs. one, MVP votes in two seasons vs. one, and a Rookie of the Year award vs. none. I spitballed a six-year extension at $100M for Judge recently, so I’m happy to see I was at least in the ballpark. Point is, we have another contract benchmark now. Bregman received six years and $100M at Judge’s current service time level. Mike Trout received six years and $144.5M at the same service time level a few years ago. It stands to reason a potential Judge extension should then fall somewhere between the two, right? Say, six years and $120M? That seems reasonable. Bregman’s deal and Trout’s deal both started right away. If you’re the Yankees, do you give Judge six years and $120M right now ($20M luxury tax hit from 2019-24) or a five-year deal at $119.32M that begins next year ($684,300 luxury tax hit in 2019 and $23.864M luxury tax hit from 2020-24)? Call it a six-year deal that begins immediately and they’d get slammed by the luxury tax this year. A five-year deal on top of the one-year contract he already signed for 2019 is probably the way to go. Well, anyway, the Jimenez extension raised the bar for Torres and the Bregman extension gave us a clearer picture of what it’ll take to sign Judge long-term. Thanks for nothing, White Sox. Thanks for the help, Astros.
2. I don’t have much to say about the Gio Gonzalez signing. Even though he’s no longer the guy he was at his peak, it is ridiculous a league average-ish innings dude like Gonzalez had to settle for a minor league contract a week before Opening Day. He would’ve been a fourth or fifth starter upgrade for what, maybe half the teams in baseball? For the Yankees, Gonzalez is zero risk pitching depth. It’s a 30-day free trial. If the Yankees like what they see, they can keep him. If not, they can let him opt out on April 20th. For Gonzalez, it’s an opportunity to face actual hitters in actual games, rather than continue to throw on his own. He can get himself into game shape and also audition himself for other teams in case he does opt out next month. Chances are the Yankees will need Gonzalez when his opt-out date arrives because who knows with the kids and injuries are always possible, though I don’t think it’s a lock he’ll be added to the roster. This could be a Kevin Millwood circa 2011 situation, where the Yankees have a recognizable name in the system, but let him walk rather than add him to the roster because his stuff is lacking. We’ll see. The Yankees get some added pitching depth and a free month-long look at Gonzalez with no financial commitment. Can’t complain about it at all.
3. Okay, I lied, one more Gio thought: $300,000 per start (up to 30 starts) isn’t a standard incentive. That is pricey, especially since it will be $396,000 per start in real money once you factor in the luxury tax. Gonzalez is a pretty good candidate for an opener at this point of his career — keeping him and his reduced stuff away from the other team’s best hitters seems worthwhile — and that could keep the Yankees away from the big money incentives. He could throw something like 150 innings behind the opener while making zero starts and earning zero incentives. That said, I get the sense Gonzalez and agent Scott Boras (and the MLBPA) would flip out about that. In that case, Gio would have a starter’s workload without actually starting, and they could argue the Yankees misled them and didn’t negotiate in good faith. They wooed him with starts-based incentives despite intending to pair him with an opener. That kinda thing. The Yankees set a precedent for paying bonuses that weren’t earned per the terms of the contract last year when they gave CC Sabathia the $500,000 bonus following the “That’s for you, bitch” incident even though he fell two innings short of the threshold, and I’m sure Boras would use against them. In all likelihood, this won’t matter at all and Gonzalez will make his starts. Still, it would make sense to pair him with an opener, and that could create an interesting situation with his incentives. Part of me doesn’t want to see Gonzalez in pinstripes because everyone else is healthy and pitching well and the Yankees don’t need him. Another part of me is curious to see how a potential opener/incentives situation would play out. It could get ugly.
4. Before it was announced he would begin the season on the injured list, my concern over Dellin Betances’ missing velocity was at a five on a scale of 1-10. Not panicked but his lack of velocity had my attention. Something clearly was not right. Dellin had a quick eight-pitch 1-2-3 inning in his most recent Grapefruit League outing and the television radar gun had his six fastballs at 89, 88, 89, 90, 92, and 90 mph. That’s … not where he should be. Betances is typically a slow starter velocity-wise and I know he reported to Spring Training a few days late following the birth of his son, but he’d been throwing for a month and had pitched in four Grapefruit League games up to that point. It seemed like the velocity should’ve started to creep up already. Before the injured list announcement, pitching coach Larry Rothschild told George King the Yankees were going to hold Betances out of games for a bit and work to build up his arm strength behind the scenes. “We are going to try and figure it out and see what it is. We need to see and play it by ear. Try to do some things, rest, long toss and see where it goes,” said Rothschild. Shoulder issues are never good, especially for a soon-to-be 31-year-old who’s thrown a ton of intense high-leverage innings the last five years, but at least now we have an explanation for the missing velocity. Betances said he cut back on his throwing leading up to the birth of his son and then did too much, too soon to get back up to speed when he reporting to Tampa. That sounds plausible. It is entirely possible age and the career workload are catching up to Dellin and his velocity is down for good. Father Time comes for everyone. Despite the shoulder issue, I’m optimistic that is not the case, and Betances will be back to normal following a little break and a proper throwing program. Still, those 89 mph fastballs over the weekend were jarring. It was clear something was not right.
5. Speaking of velocity, holy cats did y’all see Anderson Severino (no relation to Luis) over the weekend? The Yankees brought this little left-hander (listed at 5-foot-10 and 165 lbs.) up from minor league camp as an extra arm for the day, and he was out there throwing 99-100 mph. Severino had absolutely no idea where the ball was going, but still, that velo. Look at this:
6. We’ve seen some funky defensive shifts in recent days. The Blue Jays used a four-man outfield against Aaron Judge and Greg Bird over the weekend, and the Rays did the same thing two days ago. I reckon we’ll see that during the regular season at times because Judge and Bird are both extreme fly ball and line drive hitters, so you might as well align your defense to their strengths. Joey Votto and Joey Gallo have seen four-man outfields during the regular season and it’s only a matter of time until other extreme non-grounder guys see it as well. Get ready for that. Also, Aaron Boone told Pete Caldera the Yankees have discussed using a five-man infield behind extreme ground baller Zack Britton. “Do we consider, in certain spots, like a five-man infield? Those kind of things,” said Boone. In certain situations, why not? The Rays have a lot of ground ball hitters, for example. Why not use a five-man infield behind Britton against ground ball heavy hitters on occasion? It’s an interesting idea and I’m curious about the mechanics. Do the Yankees ask Brett Gardner (lefty thrower), Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, or Giancarlo Stanton to play the infield in those spots? I don’t think so. That’s setting them up for failure. I guess that means you replace an outfielder with Tyler Wade, use him on the five-man infield, then move him to the outfield thereafter. Seems like a real creative use of Wade’s versatility. I hope we see this at some point. Weird baseball things are fun.
7. I could not possibly dislike the new September call-up rules more. Starting next season teams get a 26-man roster with a 13-pitcher limit from April through August (and in the postseason), then, in September, it’s a 28-man roster with a 14-pitcher limit. Teams must carry 28 players in September, which I guess is a good thing, and the ten-day waiting period still applies if you send a player down. You can’t have a taxi squad of pitchers that rotate in and out every two or three days. This stinks so much. The 28-man roster (and one extra pitcher spot) means it’s that much more difficult to rest worn down pitchers late in the season, but I guess the union isn’t worried about protecting arms. Also, there are a lot of players — a lot of players — whose only shot at the big leagues is as a September call-up. So many players now have no real chance at experiencing the big leagues and that sucks. It completely sucks. In addition to the increased salary — one month at the MLB minimum salary is more than seven times a full season at the Triple-A minimum salary — one day in the big leagues gets you access to the MLBPA’s healthcare program for life, and that is life-changing for so many players and their families. That is off the table for many now. Look at Stephen Tarpley. Does he get a chance to showcase himself last September and make the ALDS roster with a 28-man/14-pitcher roster? Almost certainly not. He was behind too many other guys. It’s not hyperbole to say last year’s September call-up changed Tarpley’s career outlook. Many others won’t get the same opportunity starting next season. Why not at least push for a 30-man or 32-man roster in September? I can’t believe the MLBPA went for this.
8. I don’t like the three-batter minimum for pitchers. I also think it’ll be one of those things we barely notice after a while. One or two-batter relief specialists are already being phased out, plus teams can still change pitchers after only one or two batters following the end of an inning. My preference would be letting teams use their rosters however they want. Let them position their defenders anywhere on the field, use as any pitchers as they deem necessary, whatever. I think creativity is good for the game overall. This rule goes against that. I do think the three-batter minimum restores some value to driving up the pitch count. I mean, working the count is always good, though it has lost some value recently because the game is so bullpen heavy and so many starters are only going through the lineup twice regardless of pitch count. Getting a starter to 50 pitches after two innings isn’t a big deal when his limit is 18 batters no matter what, you know? Now, with the three-batter minimum, if you can push a reliever to 25-30 pitches in an outing, it could impact his availability the next day. The opposing club might not want to send him back out there knowing he’ll have to face at least three batters again. I suppose you could use that reliever to get one out to end an inning on the second of back-to-back days, though you kinda have to plan for things to go haywire and that reliever having to say in to face three batters, right? This is where I think the three-batter minimum will have the most impact. Using guys on back-to-back or even back-to-back-to-back days. It makes a deep bullpen that much more important. Back-to-backs and back-to-back-to-backs figure to decline some league-wide. (It’s worth noting the three-batter minimum is being unilaterally implemented by commissioner Rob Manfred. The MLBPA didn’t agree to this.)
9. The Mike Trout extension reminded me of something I meant to write weeks ago but never did: Why didn’t the Yankees even fake interest in Bryce Harper? They didn’t even try to drive up the price for other clubs. They’ve done that in the past. Despite having no interest in signing him, Brian Cashman had dinner with Carl Crawford years ago to get other teams (i.e. the Red Sox) to up their bid. I get that the White Sox were the only American League team pursuing Harper, but still. Driving up the price for the Phillies, Dodgers, or Giants means a potential World Series opponent would have less money available to spend on other players down the road, in theory. The same applies to Manny Machado as well, though at least the Yankees were somewhat involved in Machado bidding. With Harper, it was nothing. My theory is the Yankees knew they were passing on him from the start and decided the inevitable headaches and bad PR that would come with him signing elsewhere wasn’t worth it. Getting involved, getting an (already grouchy?) fan base’s hopes up, then Harper going elsewhere wouldn’t have gone over well. It would’ve been a distraction — Cashman and Aaron Boone certainly would have been asked about what would’ve looked like a sincere but failed Harper pursuit, and probably the players as well — and the Yankees don’t need anything like that. I’m not sure why else the Yankees would have been so out of the Harper race. They brokered the Zack Britton signing with Scott Boras, so it’s not like they have a bad relationship. I dunno. Just weird is all. I expected the Yankees to at least fake interest in Harper to make life difficult for the other teams pursuing him. Didn’t happen.